Iowa’s Public Universities Ramp up Energy Conservation Efforts

iowa's public universities
Lisa Markowski for Zondits, April 10, 2015

The University of Iowa (UI) plans to increase the “smart” scheduling changes enacted for 10 weeks last summer in select campus buildings to save energy. The program adjusts summertime classroom scheduling to concentrate the occupied space on campus to reduce cooling needs. The school started by eliminating evening classes and events and reducing afternoon classes in Maclean Hall, the Pomerantz Center, and the English-Philosophy Building. The pilot program was a success, lowering electrical usage by 19% and saving about $10,000, while also reducing the need for janitorial service in the unused classrooms. This year’s program expansion will consist of consolidating summer classes in three more buildings, including the Boyd Law Building, to lower air-conditioning usage.

UI is joined by other Hawkeye State schools, whose efforts run year-round. Northern Iowa State has changed its minimum and maximum temperature thresholds for certain unoccupied spaces to 60°F in the winter and 85°F in the summer. Iowa State University (ISU) also works to consolidate classroom occupation, while making sure to turn off unused laboratory equipment and submitting to energy audits to identify and correct system inefficiencies.

But ISU employs another effective strategy to encourage its individual colleges to reduce their energy consumption. The university distributes its $26 million facilities budget to each college based on their individual three-year average usage—but the college can keep any money left over after its bills are paid. When ISU began that program six years ago, there was an immediate 10% reduction in energy consumption. This summer, the university will replace three coal boilers with gas-fired boilers, conduct an extensive energy audit in the 13 campus buildings with the most energy usage, and look into incorporating some alternative fuels where possible.

UI’s energy-saving measures are part of the school’s larger effort to meet a collection of sustainability goals throughout the campus by 2020. Overall, UI hopes to consume less energy in that year than it did in 2010, regardless of continued growth. Seven buildings have been added to the UI campus since 2010, with more expansion—including a new hospital and two new dormitories—planned.

Some private colleges in the state are also working toward higher energy efficiency. Morningside College in Sioux City is planning an extensive renovation of its largest residence hall to increase student comfort while conserving energy. The renovation of the unconditioned building will add an efficient AC system with individual controls for each room and will also include envelope improvements, additional insulation, and heating system upgrades.